Minutes after his 76ers defeated the Nets to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Brooklyn Nets, Joel Embiid stood next to TNT sideline reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude.
Holding the microphone just high enough for the 7-foot-2 Cameroonian to comfortably answer her questions, she asked about the third quarter incident incited by Jared Dudley that led to a flagrant foul and two ejections.
Before responding, Embiid looked away for half a second and smirked.
“I mean, first of all, he’s a nobody,” he said, referring to Dudley.
Jared Dudley stood outside the Nets locker room wearing a plaid gray blazer, as if to suggest that he was dressed for a business trip. A reporter asked him about the third quarter incident that led to his ejection, and particularly his decision to shove Embiid.
“If anything, I should’ve got him worse,” said Dudley.
Bad blood is no stranger to the NBA playoffs. In fact, the two often go hand-in-hand. Tensions between Jared Dudley and the Sixers have bubbled to the surface over the past week. Dudley made comments about Ben Simmons’ half-court limitations in between Games 2 and 3. Simmons responded the same way anyone would respond to Jared Dudley shade:
“It’s coming from Jared Dudley, c’mon.”
A Simmons taunt, Dudley copycat taunt, and baseline altercation later, and the Sixers are now a win away from the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They’ll attempt to close out the Nets tonight from the comfort of their Broad Street home.
If Dudley felt that Simmons and Embiid were showing ill will, wait until he is reintroduced to the Philadelphia fans in attendance Tuesday night. Shamus Clancy of NBC Sports Philadelphia had a message for Sixers fans on the eve of Game 5:
“Go full heel. Play the villain. People in this city love wearing a “Philadelphia vs. Everybody” shirt or hoodie. Don’t just lean into the role. Cannonball into it!”
There’s a good chance they’ll heed his advice. Jared Dudley thinks he’s going on a 24-hour business trip to Philadelphia. What he doesn’t know is that the Wells Fargo Center will more closely resemble the Roman Colosseum than an NBA arena—that is to say, the home crowd will be out for blood.
The national perception of Philadelphia sports fans is, in many ways, misguided and hyperbolic. Ask somebody not From Here about them, and they’ll remind you of the time Eagles fans hurled cinder blocks at Santa Claus in 1928. Or was it bowling balls in 1965? Regardless, they’ll bring that story up.
Philly is home to an impassioned, uninhibited fanbase that gets a bad rap for being, well, impassioned and uninhibited. They call sports talk radio stations and complain about their teams’ players every single day. Be honest, though. What city’s fans don't do that? Utah’s? Who would ever want to be from Utah?
Above all else, the Philly faithful are protective of their own. They will complain about their guys as often as they please. It is their birthright as fans. But the minute an outsider (like Jared Dudley) crosses the line, it’s all-out war.
Take sibling dynamics, for instance. Siblings have a tendency to fight with one another. But if the kid down the street picks on one of them, the others will make sure that never happens again.
They might be a pain in the ass, but they’re my pain in the ass.
Embiid is From Here. Simmons, whether some fans like it or not, is From Here. Jared Dudley is the kid down the street, and the Sixers crowd is not going to let him off easy.
For the Nets, staving off elimination on the road will be a tall task. Factor in their youth and inexperience, and it becomes an even taller task. Factor in the fans’ vendetta against Jared Dudley—which they’ll undoubtedly extend to the rest of the Nets roster, their coaching staff, and their equipment manager—and it becomes a Boban-sized task. The Nets are going to be up against it.
As Caris LeVert sunk the first of two free throws to put the Nets up seven points midway through the fourth quarter of Game 4, I turned to my younger brother and said, “The Nets better pray they win this game.” He responded, “There’s no reason for them to come here Tuesday if they don’t.”
Neither of us were referring to the Nets potentially being down 3-1 in the series. They could’ve led the series for all we cared. For us, it was about the power of momentum, and after the scuffle that occurred in the third quarter of Game 4, a win would have been as invigorating for the Sixers as a loss would have been demoralizing for the Nets. Brooklyn threw their best stuff—shoves and all—but it wasn’t enough.
Could the Nets play spoiler and force a Game 6 back in Brooklyn? Sure, they’ve been competitive most of the series. Jared Dudley’s actions will certainly make it harder for them to pull it off, though. Sometimes, NBA teams take their foot off the gas when they secure a commanding series lead, leaving them more susceptible to letdown losses. The Sixers should have enough bulletin board material to keep them fully locked in through Tuesday night’s final whistle. The fans should have enough bulletin board material to get them through next Christmas.
The Wire’s Omar Little famously said, “You come at the king, you best not miss.” Jared Dudley and the Nets came at Joel Embiid and the Sixers on Saturday afternoon. They missed.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: TNT, NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic